BY Art Thiel 05:28PM 04/04/2014

Thiel: Nothing like how Seahawks run their show

In pro sports, the relationship between coach Pete Carroll and GM John Schneider is a rare and wonderful thing. Only one guy, ex-CEO Tod Leiweke, saw it coming.

John Schneider and Pete Carroll couldn’t have been more in step with one another if they had been conjoined twins. / Drew McKenzie, Sportspress Northwest

In describing Pete Carroll Friday, John Schneider twice used the phrase, “low ego.” As in: “The football stuff is very obvious for everybody. What everybody doesn’t see is the low ego and the passion he has for the game.”

In contrast, a common phrase used by outsiders in describing Carroll’s style is “rah-rah,” a short-hand cliche that is almost always a pejorative, because it implies that he’s covering up with attention-getting enthusiasm an absence of substance.

The disparity between the descriptions is at the heart of what should be astonishment at the news of Carroll’s three-year contract extension — astonishment, at least, if you were around on Jan. 10, 2010, when Carroll was hired away after seven highly successful seasons at USC and introduced as the Seahawks’ third coach in three tumultuous years.

At that moment, almost no Seahawks fan nor media member in Seattle foresaw what has come to pass. Many, especially the purple-hued, were contemptuous because of the success of Carroll’s insufferable Trojans — seven consecutive Pac-10 titles and two national championships.

Rah-rah was about the nicest thing said about Carroll that day. But low-ego was the most important phrase Friday because it helped explain the Super Bowl success from the guy whose career would have been doomed had Carroll developed an overbearing ego common among those in his craft.

The coach-GM relationship is the single most critical aspect of a football franchise — and potentially the most volatile. Particularly since Carroll chose Schneider from a list of four provided by the Seahawks (See: Story behind Seahawks’ hire of Carroll), Schneider could have been cowed or marginalized, given the difference in ages and professional statures.

Instead, the two reinvented how a front office can function well. Please study this quote from Carroll Friday:

“I felt like we had an opportunity to demonstrate to professional sports how powerful and how crucial this relationship is. I hope that someday that somebody will look back and see John as the most powerful, most dominant general manager in professional sports. Someday, we’ll look back and have that chance to make that statement.

“It has come with real design. I wanted to help John be the best he could possibly be. He is committed to try and help me be the best I can possibly be. With that union, we put this organization in motion and we’re really proud to tell you that, and proud to show you that we have been able to do that together. His uniqueness, his creativity, his work ethic, his grit, everything that he brings is hopefully brought to the front where you guys can see the tremendous work that he’s done.”

I can’t prove it, but I’m willing to wager a pitcher of craft brew that such an expression has never been uttered in the modern history of American professional sports. Coaches and GMs, by dint of personalities as well as the competitive nature of any high-pressure business, just don’t work like that.

All a Seattle sports fan has to do is look across the figurative street at the Mariners to see how not to do it. The decisions last year by manager Eric Wedge to quit in anger, then torpedo the franchise with a brutal, on-the-record takedown in the Seattle Times, underscored the years-long dysfunction that has cut in half the the club’s attendance and made them a civic punchline.

But don’t think the ineffectiveness is confined to the Mariners. A similar kind of split in the Seahawks was why Carroll was hired, and why he was given limited freedom to choose Schneider.

At the time of Carroll’s hire, then-CEO Tod Leiweke explained what had gone wrong after the Seahawks’ first appearance in the Super Bowl in 2006. GM Tim Ruskell and coach Mike Holmgren began to feud. Holmgren was eased out after 2008, Ruskell was fired in December 2009, and Jim Mora, Holmgren’s successor, was fired a month later after a single season.

From a column I wrote at seattlepi.com:

Leiweke commissioned an audit following the firing of GM Tim Ruskell that he said revealed a “series of progressive revelations.” One of the key disclosures of the audit, according to one source familiar with its content, was the split among players and employees hired by Holmgren, and ones hired by Ruskell.

“The biggest thing,” the source said, “was we had Mike guys and Tim guys.”

Since the Sunni and Shiite leaders have departed, Leiweke is now free to identify the motivation behind his surprise firing of Mora after a single season.

“We had a need for a clean slate,” he said. “Keeping Jim for a second year was the path of least resistance. We had to do something bold.”

The boldness was hiring Carroll, whose record as an NFL coach (33-31) was about the same as Mora’s in Atlanta and Seattle (31-33). But he had the advantage of his time at USC to refine exactly what would work to extract premium performance out of athletes in a way that would be fulfilling at the time — and generate eagerness to repeat it.

“There was a lot of talk that was out there about why I would come back from college coaching, and all of the things that I had to prove,” Carroll said Friday. “None of that was right. The idea was that we had found a way to operate and run a club, and now we could do it on the most challenging, compelling stage possible. Let’s go ahead and go for it. I was really anxious to see how it would hit and how it would take hold.”

Critics who said Carroll’s methods were good in college, but would fail in the pros, missed a critical point: Regardless of age or wealth, human nature is the same. Of course, there are differences in people, but those differences are handled in tactical adjustments, not in a strategy that appeals to the highest passions and instincts in any individual driven to succeed.

It’s hard to get a voluble guy like Carroll to offer clarity in a single sentence. But as befits one who probably became the highest paid coach/manager in American sports history, he succeeded Friday.

“I really wanted to prove,” he said, “that we had come to a way that handled the people in a manner that would allow them to be at their best.”

A simple expression. All it took was four years and a resounding Super Bowl win to make it obvious to the rest of us.


YourThoughts

  • Jamo57

    I remember thinking a couple of years ago, when it was becoming clear that the Hawks were doing things in a different way, that it would be really nice if the Hawks way of doing things would become the new model that all the other franchises would try and copy or emulate.

    Having said that, I’m still trying to wrap my head around the fact it’s happening here in Seattle. A ‘team of the decade’ type of run occurs in other cities, not here.

    Maybe it’s finally our turn.

    • art thiel

      Jamo, keeping try to wrap your head around it. As with all sports fans in Seattle, you’ve spent decades rapping your head. Big painful difference.

  • jafabian

    I love saying “Super Bowl champs” and associating it with Seattle. The Super Bowl is America’s World Cup. The entire world knows it and as such the entire world knows the Seahawks owns the Super Bowl. I’m wondering if at some point both Pete Carroll and John Schneider will ask themselves “Is there more?” Will there come a point where they want to move to the next level? Because how can it get better than the Super Bowl?

    • clrdds48

      Precisely. Winning it with a different team perhaps and joining that super elite group? I would think so, but change is inevitable in this league and it would make me sad because I’m such a huge PC/JS fan. However, at least for 3 more years, I’ll enjoy the heck out of the goldmine that we’ve got!

      • art thiel

        3 more years. At least. And they work for the richest owner in sports.

        • Brian Nollette

          It seem to me the Seahawks are a Team through and through I Believe the work With the richest owner in sports

          • art thiel

            As much as a lucrative business can master the team concept, knowing that partial teardown is imminent, the Seahawks have done it.

    • art thiel

      One of the great curses of sports is the irresistible desire to look ahead to what’s next. So for your sake, and for all sports fans sake, PLEASE do what Russell Wilson says. Live in the now.

      • jafabian

        You could say the Seahawks did that in the Holmgren era and the winning didn’t last. The team quickly got old and the patchwork fixes didn’t work. I’m more or less wondering just how can it from the PC/JS perspective be better than they already have it?

        • art thiel

          All pro sports governed by union bargaining are cyclical. No team, Yankees, Lakers, Patriots, stays atop long. The Pats haven’t won an SB since 04, but they have a big say every year. That’s the best any fan can hope for. Just don’t get so stuck looking years down the road that you diminish these remarkable days of being a champion.

  • TrippinTheCripple

    Great read, Art, The overwhelming majority of recent Seahawks-related reports had the same smell and consistency of a cat’s regurgitated milk. Yours was equal parts substance and insight.
    I knew there were fractures between the coaching staff and suits, I didn’t know the cracks extended to the locker room. Another year or two of testosterone-fueled pissing matches of that magnitude and we probably would have watched the OKC Thunderhawks win the Super Bowl.

    • art thiel

      The narrative arc of the Seahawks story from 05 to now is, to me, a ripper. Lots of tension, failure and success among powerful, ambitious men. Glad you enjoyed, Trip.

      • Coug1990

        Of course the dysfunction went farther back..Bob Whitsitt anyone?

  • Its onlySports(DavidWakefield)

    In the words of Pete? This article~I was loving the Heck outta it. The last comment i made on your previous(article) Pete signing I had mentioned the man had come full circle and he has from that dreadful mess he inherited. In a big way ending with the initials S.B.
    Most of us made fun of Pete hollering and running up and down the field when he was battling the Husky teams down @USC…and i think it was human nature for a majority of us to say a USC man as the new Hawk coach? Really?

    Really.
    Paul Allen is a visionary as we have seen with his part in developing Microsoft.He deserves credit for bringing in mister rah~rah. I think its safe to say we as fans have totally embraced his style. Last season when i was dejected for most of the Texan ballgame trying to swallow the reality of certain defeat there was Pete fist pumping and never giving up despite being down 3 scores. Then that magical 4th Qtr happened ~Sherman intercepted that ill advised pass and lost a shoe as he was off to the races(for a TD) and who was running down the sideline with him? Rah~Rah Pete. He was understandably jacked up and it was a defining moment for me to admit i should be very happy Pete and his style were running the Hawks because it works. They inexplicably won a game past hawk teams always seemed to lose. I still shake my head reliving that game that Pete’s squad managed to turn that into a W and every game counted in getting home field advantage. Screw destiny. That win was pure sweat and grit. Pete preaches that. Give no less than 110% and boy did they in that 4th quarter.

    As appreciative as I was for Mike Holmgren coming out here that era ran its course and I am glad Pete is on our side and the Batman/Robin duo of Pete/John simply cant be understated. Go Hawks!

    • art thiel

      You’d do me and others a favor by dropping the expression rah-rah. All of us should be like him at that age, including the way he connects with young people. It’s not an act. If it were, players would have seen through it.

      You’re right — it’s pure sweat. Carroll, Schneider and the people who work for them work their asses off. Not saying others in the league don’t do the same, but there is no magic going on here. It’s a massive desire to compete and succeed.

      • Coug1990

        I agree. Pete Carroll is not rah-rah, he is positive and a teacher.

      • Its onlySports(DavidWakefield)

        You know its a good point…well taken. (refrain button on)He isnt your average 60sum for sure and how can you not admire that? He is youthful in spirit~knows how to have fun period and as another poster lamented is just an excellent teacher of the concepts you have covered. But I do have to admit his sayings like loving the heck out of it are amusing.He and John do work their tails off.

        • art thiel

          Pete is an original thinker and speaker. Not sure I could deal professionally with a Belichick type.

  • notaboomer

    the “rah-rah” carroll stuff isn’t covering up a lack of substance. clearly pc was a successful coach at usc. the rah-rah and the rambling non-answers at press conferences were, imo, to deflect the cheating scandals at usc that don’t seem to make it into the “pete is great” post superbowl articles. remember this?
    http://www.cbssports.com/collegefootball/story/13506096

    • Coug1990

      Did you even read the report by the NCAA? It was plain and simple a witch hunt. They found that Reggie Bush took money. No one else was mentioned. The NCAA said that USC knew about it because the convicted felon who gave money to Bush said so. If you had actually followed up to know what you were talking about, the USC coach, Todd McNair, that supposedly was involved as the go between between Bush and the agent took the NCAA to court and won, overwhelmingly.

      Turns out felons lie. The NCAA should have known he was lying and still went after USC and McNair. How did the court know he was lying? The felon told the NCAA that he regularly called McNair on his USC office phone. Guess what? There are phone records that show that was false.

      Notaboomer, guys like you hate because that is what you do. Facts be damned as long as it fits your narrative.

      • art thiel

        There was much shoddy work done, Coug, as has been increasingly the case in most NCAA investigations. But don’t make sweeping judgments about felons, lest you be doing what you accuse notaboomer of doing. If it weren’t for the testimony of felons, John Gotti and many other notorious types wouldn’t be behind bars.

      • notaboomer

        ok so mcnair won a motion to dismiss his defamation case against usc before the judge in la who is a usc alum. mcnair lost the ncaa appeal. the defamation case is still pending as far as i can tell. i am not a hater but a lover of sunshine in the form of disclosure. pc coached usc. usc was sanctioned for lack of institutional control. pc left for fame and fortune in the nfl. usc did not challenge the findings against it. bush took the money in violation of the rules, right? do highly compensated head coaches bear responsibility for the cheating of their underlings? pc still not letting it go either: >>Back speaking on the USC campus Wednesday, former coach Pete Carroll described what he called “venom” the NCAA had for his program. “They made a terrible error,” he said.<< really, what error was that?

        report the facts and let the public decide. here's a link (with that quote from pc): http://www.cbssports.com/collegefootball/writer/dennis-dodd/24459341/ncaa-mistakes-in-mcnair-case-shouldnt-mean-unsealing-investigative-file

  • John M

    Well, Art, like Russ there never seems to be a drop off in your insight-fullness. Yeah, it scared the hell out of a lot of us when Pete came to town – we had memories of him walking the Pats sidelines while the announcers hinted at his imminent demise. But I for one soon came to like his approach, and with Russ named the starting quarterback as a rookie I wasn’t as condemning as some. And once they began to turn Russ loose at mid-season he certainly did open some eyes. Few coaches would have taken such a chance. I was sold. What a unique atmosphere Pete and John and the rest of the coaches have developed, not just among themselves but the entire team. You can’t demand something like this or fake it.

    If there’s still any doubters out there, say Ken Bering three times fast and then throw up.

    We got it good right now and it ain’t bad.

    • art thiel

      Pete’s unconventional approach is bound to piss off some people, and the Reggie Bush episode and Pete’s departure before sanctions will stain him forever. But it’s rare that any successful coach in the NCAA’s big-time gets away unstained, which includes alleged saints like John Wooden and Don James.

      In Seattle, Pete was given what he demanded, and he delivered what he promised.

      It don’t get better in sports.